By: Devon Cash
A couple of weeks ago my cousin sent me the following text message:
I literally laughed out loud because the first thing that came to mind when I read “from South Park to Goldman Sachs” was New-New’s dad from the movie ATL. You know, this guy right here:
And even if you don’t know him, you know at least one Black man with his storyline—a brother who started from nothing, was the first in his family to attend college, worked for the man for 20 years, and now wears sweaters around his neck, goes golfing on Saturdays, and supports #AllLivesMatter. He’s the type that gives his daughter the I-only-want-what’s-best-for-you-and-you-can-do-so-much-better- than-him speeches.
As I continued to laugh and think about this archetype, I had to consider whether or not my cousin was trying to throw me some congratulatory shade. I mean it is true that I have accomplished quite a bit, but I’d also hope that my journey doesn’t appear so scripted. And it is with that hope that I talk about my experience in the financial services industry and the things I’ve learned along the way.
But for starters, I have to give you a taste of South Park, Houston, Texas. South Park is the story of social change in Houston. My grandparents purchased their home on Longmeadow & Southbank in 1972 from a middle class white family in the midst of white flight in the city. Before that time, the neighborhood was a mostly white suburb for WWII veterans. Since then, the community has been solidly Black and increasingly Hispanic, bringing with it a cultural diversity and changing demography that reflects Houston as a whole.
South Park is also community. A walk down Longmeadow will take you straight into the rec center of South Park Baptist Church, where the Sunday services are long and the mothers’ church hats are large, and where everything from food drives to middle school basketball games are commonplace.
More than anything, though, South Park is unapologetically B-L-A-C-K. You have a community on Houston’s southeast side that is home to Burger Park and the original Original Timmy Chan’s Fried Chicken (some of y’all not gone catch that), a neighborhood where a homeboy on horseback is the norm, a place that is synonymous with MLK Boulevard, a land where spinners, candy paint, and “slabs” are not relics of the past, and probably one of very few areas where one can find a pre-school (Storybook Academy, which I attended) and Ralston’s Liquor Store next door to one another. And I love it!
And then there’s Goldman Sachs. Some of you may have never heard the name (and they’d like to keep it that way—the firm is very discrete), some of you have heard the name but don’t know what the bank does, and probably more of you are familiar with the name after the 2008 recession and have a bone to pick. In a nutshell, Goldman Sachs is the top investment bank. Unlike some popular commercial/retail banks like Bank of America and Chase, which are known for receiving deposits and making loans, investment banks like Goldman Sachs are in the business of helping companies raise money by issuing stocks and bonds. To be clear, though, most banks nowadays engage in both commercial and investment banking.
Goldman Sachs is a storied Wall Street firm, praised within the industry while condemned as a vampire squid by many on Main Street for its perceived influence in politics and international business as well as the lucrative salaries associated with the company. Many who have seen The Big Short or The Wolf of Wall Street may have an image of Goldman being a place of foremost corruption, decadence, and hedonism—a player in the New World Order, a great moral calamity, etc. etc.
I hate to let many of you down, but my “career” at Goldman started over some coffee and not an Illuminati blood ritual. While at Stanford, I had the chance to meet a managing director at Goldman who graduated in the early 80s. Through some networking and a lengthy interview, I landed a sophomore internship with the firm’s investment management team in Houston, helping manage the portfolios for our high net worth clients with cash deposits of at least $10 million. My 12 to13-hour days in my 10 weeks at Goldman were filled to the brim with learning about financial markets. I learned so much more in that short period of time than I had in two years in a classroom. Some of the top takeaways I got along the way:
Investment banks are involved in almost everything.
From the use of Microsoft Word on my Apple MacBook to draft this very article to its dissemination via Google’s Gmail to its further circulation on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, I can’t deny the impact of investment banks. Again, these institutions are responsible for taking good
ideas and making them household names. Nearly all companies you know, from Coca Cola to Tesla, have been further developed with the help of an investment bank.
Don’t be afraid to be unapologetically B-L-A-C-K.
For this one, I had to fall back to my days in South Park. Even in the rigidity of financial services, I found a way to start conversations that would have otherwise been avoided. Every day, I’d circulate daily financial reports, which I named “Market Minutes,” to the office. It’s through these finance- oriented reports that I also got the chance to highlight topics important to me, including coverage of the murder of Alton Sterling, the Democratic National Convention, firm-wide diversity events, and Simone Manuel’s historic Olympics performance.
When arriving at your Goldman Sachs, don’t forget your South Park.
In the final week of my internship, I was walking towards the parking garage with a fellow summer analyst. With my suit coat and tie still on and a backpack hugging my shoulders, I was in no mood to battle the 96° weather and overwhelming humidity. My goal was to get to my car as quickly as humanly possible.
Just one block away from the garage, in front of Downtown’s Hyatt Hotel, I was stopped by an older Black man, maybe in his 40s, who was obviously homeless—he had tattered clothes and an overwhelming odor. To no surprise, the man—noticing my attire and Goldman badge—asked if I had any change to spare. I told him honestly that I didn’t have any cash on me and issued him a farewell “God bless” and a pat on the back.
After I had walked a few paces past him, the man approached me from behind—this time more aggressively. The first thing that came to my mind was me having to show this old head what these hands do. But when I turned around, I was immediately struck by the man’s countenance. He looked at me with such intensity and emotion.
The man then explained that he had been on hard times for several years and in that time, most of which was spent Downtown, not one “Black man in a suit,” as he described, had ever acknowledged him let alone spoken to him. He then told to me how being ignored by his own people, whom he was sure had similar life experiences, “fucked him up” on a regular basis. He then thanked me for not being one of them and wished me the best of luck in my future endeavors.
In conclusion, that experience, still fresh in my consciousness, caused me to understand that the few of us Black people who have had the privilege to establish ourselves are responsible for the honest, continual, and immediate process by which we uplift those of us without. That process is comprehensive. It means, for instance (using my own experiences as an example), regardless of what space/position you occupy, that you acknowledge other Black people with dignity, that you volunteer your time to mentor low-income minority students, that you maintain a commitment to activism, that you constantly challenge the status quo in homogenous places, that you donate your material resources to impactful causes, that you remember where you come from, and that you don’t compromise your self-worth.